The federal government -- whose motives, as we'll see, are far from protecting us -- had ordered aliens from a number of countries to report for screening. Most of the countries are Arab or Muslim, but Yared felt he had no problem. After all, he was a devout Christian, a hard-working father, and his wife was a native-born citizen.
When the Woldus reported to immigration officials Jan. 10, the trap door fell open. Yared was detained -- no reason given. Pam met only rudeness, arrogance and hostility in trying to find out about her husband.
"I couldn't believe this was happening," Pam told me. "This is America. Or is it any longer?"
Yared got lucky -- for a while. After being held for about a week at an Alabama lock-up, he was released. Then came the second act of Kafka.
Immigration officials had sent a hearing notice to a wrong address. Yared missed the hearing and was ordered deported. Despite the government being at fault, an immigration judge has refused to void Yared's deportation order.
On Aug. 21, Yared was again detained -- no reason cited. By this time, he had lost his job and the family's finances were wrecked from legal bills.
"I have no faith in the United States any longer," says Pam, a hotel front-desk manager. "When I think about 9-11, I want the bad guys caught. But when our government does things like it has done to my family, that's not fighting terrorism. That's how dictatorships act. I want to know why."
If Pam Woldu -- or any other patriot -- wants to know why the government is attacking liberty, the place not to be on Sept. 5 was at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park. There, Attorney General John Ashcroft was engaged in serial commission of ipse dixit -- the assertion of something as true without facts and, in this case, when the speaker knows he's prevaricating.
First, the scene. Ashcroft spoke to about 250 police officers. This was jingoism to the max. Ashcroft was biting sound, surrounded by uniforms and American flags. The cost to local taxpayers for this backdrop was, by my calculation, about $25,000 just for the police salaries -- a bargain compared to George Bush's commandeering an entire aircraft carrier for a similar exercise in mendacious huckstering.
Ashcroft took no questions; he was whisked into and out of the center through back doors so as not to sully himself with having to view a small crowd of demonstrators. His little propaganda play's road show has set up tents in 16 cities, with a mission to give a positive spin to the gang rape of freedom. The fact that he has to go on the road is telling -- more than 150 local governments, including three states, have passed resolutions against Ashcroft's undermining of the Constitution and Congress is asking for repeal of parts of the misnamed USA PATRIOT Act.
Virtually every point Ashcroft made was either false or misleading. He portrayed the draconian legislation as just a tweaking of existing laws.
When Ashcroft alluded to the provision that allows greater communication between intelligence and law enforcement agencies, he had to know that the only real barriers in the past have been bureaucratic and territorial.
PATRIOT allows the feds to snoop on your library habits, even when there's no evidence you've done anything wrong; and it could send librarians to jail for telling you. The law gives the Bushies carte blanche to tap telephones, peruse your business, personal and even medical records. The list goes on and on (see www.aclu.org for a complete rundown).
Ashcroft told the police officers that judges would ensure everything was okey-dokey -- but the law very specifically eliminates judicial discretion. While Ashcroft assured the audience there were no abuses, the facts show otherwise. His own investigators found that rights of dozens of suspects have been violated. And, of course, what could be more corrosive to the Bill of Rights than the Bush administration's secret military tribunals? Or removing citizens from the jurisdiction of the courts? Or secret evidence?
Terrorism is defined so broadly as to include direct action by demonstrators. Under the government's thinking, Martin Luther King and the NAACP could have been declared terrorists -- and, even worse, anyone who had supported them could have been rounded up.
Just recently revealed: The feds are busily recruiting university police around the nation to spy on those who aren't marching in neo-con lockstep on campus.
Since the Bush/Ashcroft axis of duplicity has as its hallmark secrecy -- from Congress, from the courts and, most important, from you -- we really don't know all of the Kafkaesque tragedies that have happened. Just ask the Woldu family.
Ashcroft's biggest deceit was to claim that the laws are essential to, as he said, "win the war on terrorism." A congressional study shows that three-fourths of the cases stemming from the PATRIOT law and classified as "international terrorism" weren't that at all. Sept. 11 happened not because the government lacked tools, but because it didn't use its already vast arsenal.
Indeed, the very term "war on terrorism" is a Big Lie of unimaginable magnitude. It's like the war on drugs or crime. With no definitions, it can never be won. And that's exactly what the neo-con regime wants. Endless war, endless war profiteering, endless power.
The question is still: Why? One has to look at events before 9-11. A year before the terrorist attack, the neo-cons' politburo, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), issued a paper that noted "some catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbor" was needed to soften America to accept its agenda.
There is an incredible list of questions about 9-11 -- from the failures of intelligence agencies, to the claims by many loyal federal agents that their warnings were mysteriously ignored, to the top Bushies ceasing to take commercial flights in the days before the attack, to the blank and unsurprised look on Bush's face when at a school classroom he was told of the attack, to the violation of basic military procedures, to the Bush-sanctioned spiriting away of bin Laden family members and other Saudis from America, to the lack of fighter plane response, to the administration's frantic attempts to derail investigations of the tragedy and to keep key findings secret.
As former British cabinet member Michael Meacher wrote in The (London) Guardian this month, the evidence points to complicity by the Bush administration -- that our defenses were "deliberately stood down" on Sept. 11. Far fetched? It's now reverberating in Congress. Did the administration know that an attack was imminent, and were our rulers' decisions based on advancing their plans for empire by allowing the galvanizing event to occur? Surely these questions are more worthy of a special prosecutor than were Bill Clinton's sexual antics.
The PNAC (aka Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle) plan is that of American empire. Meacher: "None of the evidence ... is compatible with the idea of a real, determined war on terrorism. ... The so-called 'war on terrorism' is being used largely as bogus cover for achieving wider" PNAC objectives.
The fly in the ointment for the Bushies is that Americans value their freedom. Polls show we are waking up to the lies about Iraq. The dual tools to control the public are fear -- the constant jacking up of threat messages, as in the stridently false allusions to mushroom clouds over America if Saddam Hussein wasn't toppled -- and suppression.
Why do we have a PATRIOT Act? To control, to silence, to intimidate loyal, patriotic Americans. It's part of the plan.
Senior Editor John Sugg says, "I can't understand why John Ashcroft doesn't return my phone calls." Sugg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 404-614-1241.